Local Archaeology

An Overview

By Robert Skeen

Photo:Items from the Meldreth Hoard

Items from the Meldreth Hoard

Photograph by Robert Skeen, courtesy of the British Museum

Meldreth sits in a historically rich landscape and there have been many chance finds and archaeological excavations which shed light on its history.

Perhaps the most exciting was the discovery made in 1880 when a workman found the Meldreth Hoard – a Bronze Age cache of weapons and tools.

This is not the only antiquity found in the area. Some other interesting examples are described below.


Roman Coffin

Photo:The Roman Coffin outside Holy Trinity Church

The Roman Coffin outside Holy Trinity Church

Photograph by Kathryn Betts

On the 16th June 1815 the Cambridge Chronicle reported that “as some labouring men were employed in cutting through Mettle Hill, on the new road from Meldreth to Kneesworth, they discovered a number of human bones, and about eight feet below the surface of the earth they found a stone coffin, containing a perfect skeleton.” 

The report goes on to say “there is no doubt, but it contains the remains of some great person of that day, as there were a number of other bodies lay near it.”

The coffin (subsequently identified as Roman) was moved to Holy Trinity Church in Meldreth where it now stands outside the porch. 


Anglo Saxon Cemetery at Edix Hill – excavated 1989 to 1991

Photo:CBA Research Report 112, 1998

CBA Research Report 112, 1998

This major excavation was carried out when a metal detector user reported finding an iron shield boss and other 6th century items in fields west of Malton Lane. Subsequent work revealed what proved to be a major Anglo Saxon cemetery and 149 individual skeletons in 115 graves were excavated. Their bones were in exceptionally good condition and analysis showed that they came from a relatively healthy and robust community. However, some cases of cancer and leprosy were identified, as well a battle wounds.

The population seemed neither especially rich nor poor but in the 7th century a few high status individuals had been buried, including the female occupants of two ‘bed burials’.

The illustration showing some of the finds is taken from CBA Research Report 112. 

More information from the report can be found on the Orwell Past and Present website.


Malton Farm: Archaeological Survey 1990

Photo:The ruins of Malton Church, 1930s

The ruins of Malton Church, 1930s

Orwell Past and Present

An archaeological survey was carried out when Malton golf course was first proposed in order to see what, if anything, should be preserved. Flints and pottery were found on the 91 hectares of land covered. This suggested some prehistoric activity to the west and a Roman and Medieval settlement site to the south east of Malton Rook grove. A medieval settlement is known to have existed at Malton but this was deserted in the 15th century and only Malton Farm remains of the old buildings. Despite its early desertion, some ruins of the church still stood in the 1930s as shown in this photograph from the Orwell Past and Present website.

Aerial Photography

Photo:21st June 1949

21st June 1949

CO055 original image held at Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photography

Photo:23rd May 1962

23rd May 1962

Detail from AEK4. Original image held by Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photography

Aerial photography can show features in the landscape which are not visible at ground level. It is a very effective technique in dry weather when crop marks show up well. The photographs on the right are shown with permission from the Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photography, where the original images are held.

The first photograph shows enclosures and field boundaries – these features are undated but could be features which date back to Roman or even Iron Age times. The photograph was taken in 1949: the steam train travelling from Shepreth is particularly evocative.

The second photograph was taken on 23rd May 1962, prior to the building of the houses in Flambards Close.  The moat on what is now Flambards Green can clearly be seen. 


Prehistoric Axe

Photo:A pre-historic polished axe, found in 1980

A pre-historic polished axe, found in 1980

Photograph by Robert Skeen, courtesy of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge

A superb polished flint axe, made of a mottled beige/golden coloured stone was apparently found during potato picking in 1980. There is some doubt as to the precise find spot but it seems likely to have been in a field to the south of the British Queen public house, on the other side of the River Mel. The Neolithic axe dates from between 4000BC – 2201BC and can be seen on display on the ground floor of the Archaeology and Anthropology Museum in Downing Street, Cambridge. The photograph shows the axe in the museum display case. 

Flint axes were extremely practical tools and were used from early periods for many tasks, including tree felling. In the Neolithic period, greater care began to be taken over their appearance and the surfaces could be highly polished. This may have been intended to emphasise them as status symbols, rather than practical tools.


Flambards Manor: first excavated in 1933

Photo:Examples of Lethbridge's finds from the Flambards excavation in 1933

Examples of Lethbridge's finds from the Flambards excavation in 1933

Photograph by Robert Skeen, courtesy of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge

Photo:Examples of Lethbridge's finds from the Flambards excavation in 1933

Examples of Lethbridge's finds from the Flambards excavation in 1933

Photograph by Robert Skeen, courtesy of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge

Many finds and excavations are from surrounding areas. However, in 1933 two archaeologists, T C Lethbridge and C F Tebbutt, decided to investigate a location in the middle of Meldreth: the site of Flambards Manor. The manor was originally surrounded by a moat which in 1933 was still visible in open ground within the village (see aerial photograph above). It is still faintly marked by the grassy oval in the centre of the Flambards housing estate. They found pottery and other material, including a coin of Henry III, which suggested late Saxon occupation continuing at least into the thirteenth century. Their finds are now held by the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and some examples are shown below. 

Photo:The medieval mirror back, found in one of the test pits at Flambards

The medieval mirror back, found in one of the test pits at Flambards

Photograph by Carenza Lewis

Photo:Late fourteenth century mirror case from Billingsgate, London. Now in the Museum of London

Late fourteenth century mirror case from Billingsgate, London. Now in the Museum of London

Egan and Pritchard 1991, 360-1, no. 1712

Three test pits were dug within the moated site as part of Meldreth Local History Group's 2013 test pitting project. These also found evidence of occupation, including considerable amounts of medieval pottery, butchered bones (mainly sheep and pig) and daub from a wattle and daub constructed building. The highlight of the dig was finding a mirror back from the 14th century. Although corroded, it appears to be an exact replica of a mirror case found in Billingsgate (see photographs).

More information on Flambard's archaeology is available on a separate page.


Other Finds

Further information on archaeological sites and finds in the village is available on the Cambridgeshire Historic Environment Record website.

 

This page was added by Kathryn Betts on 02/08/2014.

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